Learning Requires Memory and Experience

Aristotle, Metaphysics 980a22-981

“All people naturally yearn for knowledge. A sign of this our delight in our senses: for we take pleasure in them beyond their use—especially in the use of our eyes. This is not only so we may act but also when we are about to do nothing we choose seeing before all of the other senses, in general. The cause of this is that this sense especially helps us learn and clarifies many differences.

Animals too are born having senses, and from these some have memory and some do not. This is why some animals have more thoughts and may learn better than those who are not capable of memory. Some are clever but without the skill of learning, for example the bee or another other type of this kind of creature. However so many creatures have perception in addition to memory can learn. The rest of the animals live by images and instincts and have a small portion of experience.

The human race survives both by skill and reasoning. Experience comes to us from memory—for the many memories of the same matter results in the power of a single experience. Experience certainly seems similar to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill come to people from experience. For, “experience produces art,”  as Polus has rightly pronounced, “while inexperience makes good luck.”

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Πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἡ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀγάπησις· καὶ γὰρ χωρὶς τῆς χρείας ἀγαπῶνται δι᾿ αὑτάς, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων ἡ διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων. οὐ γὰρ μόνον ἵνα πράττωμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ μηθὲν μέλλοντες πράττειν τὸ ὁρᾶν αἱρούμεθα ἀντὶ πάντων ὡς εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων. αἴτιον δ᾿ ὅτι μάλιστα ποιεῖ γνωρίζειν τι ἡμᾶς αὕτη τῶν αἰσθήσεων, καὶ πολλὰς δηλοῖ διαφοράς. Φύσει μὲν οὖν αἴσθησιν ἔχοντα γίγνεται τὰ ζῷα, ἐκ δὲ ταύτης τοῖς μὲν αὐτῶν οὐκ ἐγγίγνεται μνήμη τοῖς δ᾿ ἐγγίγνεται. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ταῦτα φρονιμώτερα καὶ μαθητικώτερα τῶν μὴ δυναμένων μνημονεύειν ἐστί, φρόνιμα μὲν ἄνευ τοῦ μανθάνειν ὅσα μὴ δύναται τῶν ψόφων ἀκούειν, οἷον μέλιττα, καὶ εἴ τι τοιοῦτον ἄλλο γένος ζῴων ἔστι· μανθάνει δ᾿ ὅσα πρὸς τῇ μνήμῃ καὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴν αἴσθησιν. Τὰ μὲν οὖν ἄλλα ταῖς φαντασίαις ζῇ καὶ ταῖς μνήμαις, ἐμπειρίας δὲ μετέχει μικρόν· τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος καὶ τέχνῃ καὶ λογισμοῖς. γίγνεται δ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μνήμης ἐμπειρία τοῖς ἀνθρώποις αἱ γὰρ πολλαὶ μνῆμαι τοῦ αὐτοῦ πράγματος μιᾶς ἐμπειρίας δύναμιν ἀποτελοῦσιν. καὶ δοκεῖ σχεδὸν ἐπιστήμῃ καὶ τέχνῃ ὅμοιον εἶναι ἡ ἐμπειρία, ἀποβαίνει δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καὶ τέχνη διὰ τῆς ἐμπειρίας τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἐμπειρία τέχνην ἐποί- ησεν, ὡς φησὶ Πῶλος, ὀρθῶς λέγων, ἡ δ᾿ ἀπειρία τύχην.

Figures of the Mind: Plato and Quintilian on Memory and Imagination

Plato, Theaetetus 191a

Soc. “For the sake of argument, imagine that there is a single chunk of wax in our minds, for some it is bigger, for some smaller, and for one the wax is clearer, while for another it is more contaminated and rather inflexible;  for others, in turn, the wax more pliable and even.”

Th. Ok….

Soc. Let us say that this is the gift of the Muses’ mother, Mnemosunê, and when we wish to recall something we have seen or heard or thought ourselves, we show this wax to our perceptions or thoughts and find the imprint, just as we find meaning in seal rings. Whatever is printed can be remembered and understood as long as its image persists. Whenever it is softened or cannot be recorded is forgotten and not understood.”

Soc. Θὲς δή μοι λόγου ἕνεκα ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ἡμῶν ἐνὸν κήρινον ἐκμαγεῖον, τῷ μὲν μεῖζον, τῷ δ᾿ ἔλαττον, καὶ τῷ μὲν καθαρωτέρου κηροῦ, τῷ δὲ κοπρωδεστέρου, καὶ σκληροτέρου, ἐνίοις δὲ ὑγροτέρου, ἔστι δ᾿ οἷς μετρίως ἔχοντος.

ΘΕΑΙ.Τίθημι.

Soc. Δῶρον τοίνυν αὐτὸ φῶμεν εἶναι τῆς τῶν Μουσῶν μητρὸς Μνημοσύνης, καὶ ἐς τοῦτο, ὅ τι ἂν βουληθῶμεν μνημονεῦσαι ὧν ἂν ἴδωμεν ἢ ἀκούσωμεν ἢ αὐτοὶ ἐννοήσωμεν, ὑπέχοντας αὐτὸ ταῖς αἰσθήσεσι καὶ ἐννοίαις, ἀποτυποῦσθαι, ὥσπερ δακτυλίων σημεῖα ἐνσημαινομένους· καὶ ὃ μὲν ἂν ἐκμαγῇ, μνημονεύειν τε καὶ ἐπίστασθαι ἕως ἂν ἐνῇ τὸ εἴδωλον αὐτοῦ· ὃ δ᾿ ἂν ἐξαλειφθῇ ἢ μὴ οἷόν τε γένηται ἐκμαγῆναι, ἐπιλελῆσθαί τε καὶ μὴ ἐπίστασθαι.

Image result for Ancient Greek wax signet

Thanks to S. Raudnitz for drawing my attention to the passage from the Theaetetus

Quintilian’s Inst. Orat. 6.2

“The fictions I have been talking about pursue us when our minds are at rest as empty hopes or certain daydreams so that we imagine we are on a journey, sailing, fighting, talking to new people, or distributing wealth we do not have—and we seem not to be considering but to be doing these things. Couldn’t we transfer this vice of the mind to something useful?”

quod quidem nobis volentibus facile continget; nisi vero inter otia animorum et spes inanes et velut somnia quaedam vigilantium ita nos hae de quibus loquor imagines prosecuntur ut peregrinari navigare proeliari, populos adloqui, divitiarum quas non habemus usum videamur disponere, nec cogitare sed facere, hoc animi vitium ad utilitatem non transferemus [ad hominem]

I do believe that, along with Aristotle and Plato, Lavar Burton might disagree with Quintilian’s dismissal of fantasy:

Swift Reprisal for Evil Done is Best for All Involved? Plutarch, “On Divine Procrastination in Vengeance”

Plutarch’s De Sera Numinis Vindicta (Moralia 548c-e)

“Patrokleas responded, “The slowness and procrastination of the deity’s punishment of the wicked seems to me to be especially terrible. Now, too, I am compelled and renewed by these words even as long ago I was moved when I heard Euripides saying “[Apollo] delays, this is the nature of the gods.”

Certainly, it is not right for god to delay in anything, least of all in punishing the wicked, men who are far from slow themselves, who are never procrastinators of doing evil, but who are driven by piercing passions into their crimes.

And, further, as Thucydides says, “when a response comes closest to suffering” it immediately creates blocks the path for those most moved by an easy way with wickedness. For nothing renders the wronged party weaker in his hopes and spirit and increases the criminal’s daring and audacity than a debt paid late. But the immediate punishment meted out to bold acts is both a restraint on futures crimes and a special comfort to those who have suffered from them.”

Καὶ ὁ Πατροκλέας ‘ἡ περὶ τὰς τιμωρίας’ εἶπε ‘τῶν πονηρῶν βραδυτὴς τοῦ δαιμονίου καὶ μέλλησις ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ μάλιστα δεινὸν εἶναι· καὶ νῦν ὑπὸ τῶν λόγων τούτων ὥσπερ πρόσφατος γέγονα τῇ δόξῃ καὶ καινός, ἔκπαλαι δ’ ἠγανάκτουν ἀκούων Εὐριπίδου λέγοντος (Or. 420)

‘μέλλει, τὸ θεῖον δ’ ἐστὶ τοιοῦτον φύσει.’

καίτοι πρὸς οὐθὲν ἥκιστα δὲ πρέπει πρὸς τοὺς πονηροὺς ῥᾴθυμον εἶναι τὸν θεόν, οὐ ῥᾳθύμους ὄντας αὐτοὺς οὐδ’ ‘ἀμβολιεργούς’ τοῦ κακῶς ποιεῖν, ἀλλ’ ὀξυτάταις ὁρμαῖς ὑπὸ τῶν παθῶν φερομένους πρὸς τὰς ἀδικίας. καὶ μήν ‘τὸ ἀμύνασθαι τῷ παθεῖν,’ ὡς Θουκυδίδης (III 38, 1) φησίν,  ‘ὅτι ἐγγυτάτω κείμενον’ εὐθὺς ἀντιφράττει τὴν ὁδὸν τοῖς ἐπὶ πλεῖστον εὐροούσῃ τῇ κακίᾳ χρωμένοις. οὐθὲν γὰρ οὕτω χρέος ὡς τὸ τῆς δίκης ὑπερήμερον γινόμενον ἀσθενῆ μὲν ταῖς ἐλπίσι ποιεῖ καὶ ταπεινὸν τὸν ἀδικούμενον, αὔξει δὲ θρασύτητι καὶ τόλμῃ τὸν μοχθηρόν· αἱ δ’ ὑπὸ χεῖρα τοῖς τολμωμένοις ἀπαντῶσαι τιμωρίαι καὶ τῶν μελλόντων εἰσὶν ἐπισχέσεις ἀδικημάτων καὶ μάλιστα τὸ παρηγοροῦν τοὺς πεπονθότας ἔνεστιν αὐταῖς.

A Pre-Socratic Saturday: Xenophanes and Friends on Thinking, Waking, Being and Lust

The collection of luminaries known as the Presocratics are great to quote because their words have already been quoted and excerpted for over 2000 years.  This makes our job easy.

But here are some of our favorites: selections of selections.

On Herakles or Achilles?

Xenophanes, Fragment 2 13-14

“It is unjust to judge strength to be better than good wisdom.”

οὐδὲ δίκαιον / προκρίνειν ῥώμην τῆς ἀγαθῆς σοφίης·

A line stolen from the Rocky Horror Picture Show:

Parmenides, fragment 3.7

“Thinking and being are the same thing.”

… τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι

Wake Up! Inspiration for Plato?

Heraclitus, Fragment 73

“It is not right to act and speak like men who are sleeping”

οὐ δεῖ ὥσπερ καθεύδοντας ποιεῖν καὶ λέγειν·

Money Corrupts, right?

Democritus, Fragment 50

“A man wholly committed to money can never be just.”

ὁ χρημάτων παντελῶς ἥσσων οὐκ ἄν ποτε εἴη δίκαιος.

David Byrne said something like this:

Thales fr. 20 (Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies. 1.1.1)

“Water is the beginning and the end of everything.”

[οὕτος ἔφη] ἀρχὴν τοῦ παντὸς εἶναι καὶ τέλος τὸ ὕδωρ

If you thought money was bad…

Prodicus fr. B7 (Stobaeus 4.20.65)

“Desire when doubled is lust; lust doubled is madness.”

ἐπιθυμίαν μὲν διπλασιασθεῖσαν ἔρωτα εἶναι, ἔρωτα δὲ διπλασιασθέντα μανίαν γίγνεσθαι.

But don’t worry, it is all in your head:

Diogenes F6 (from Simplicius Physics152.21-153.13)

And yet all things live, see and hear though the same thing; and they derive every other part of their mind from that very source.

ὅμως δὲ πάντα τῶι αὐτῶι καὶ ζῆι καὶ ὁρᾶι καὶ ἀκούει, καὶ τὴν ἄλλην νόησιν ἔχει ἀπὸ αὐτοῦ πάντα

Innocent as a babe? That’s what some think:

Ion of Chios, fr. 5a 1-2

“All creatures are born to their parents ignorant
but experience teaches them.”

καὶ μὴν ἅπαντα τίκτεται πρῶτον γοναῖς
ἄϊδρα, πειραθέντα δ’ ἐκδιδάσκεται

But we all have to start somewhere. And then work real hard:

Protagoras fr. B10 (Stobaeus 3.29.80)

“[Protagaras said that] skill is nothing without practice and practice is nothing without skill.”

[Πρωταγόρας ἔλεγε] μηδὲν εἶναι μήτε τέχνην ἄνευ μελέτης μήτε μελέτην ἄνευ τεχνης

καὶ μὴν ἅπαντα τίκτεται πρῶτον γοναῖς
ἄϊδρα, πειραθέντα δ’ ἐκδιδάσκεται

If this wasn’t enough for you, search for some Heraclitus, Democritus, and Parmenides. We love quoting these guys. And then read them again, because:

Critias 9 (Stobaeus, Anthology 3.29.11)

“Men become good more from practice than nature.”

ἐκ μελέτης πλείους ἢ φύσεως ἀγαθοί

Critias was an uncle of Plato

And:

Parmenides, fr. 6.16

“The path of all things goes backwards.”

…πάντων δὲ παλίντροπός ἐστι κέλευθος.

Demosthenes Drank Water; Aeschines Drank Wine (Philostratus, Livesof the Sophists 507-8)

“The conflict between Aeschines and Demosthenes began in part because of the fact that the one acted on behalf of the King and the other acted for another—as it seems to me. But there was also a difference of character: and hatred always seems to develop from characters that are strongly opposed to one another without any other cause. And the two were opposed for these reasons. Aeschines was a man who liked to drink, but he was sweet and had kind manners and he had the general charm of Dionysus; indeed, when he was in his youth he played parts for the tragic actors. But Demosthenes had a downcast face, a heavy brow, and he drank water: and for this reason he was assumed a ill-tempered and bad-mannered man….”

διαφορᾶς δ’ ἦρξεν Αἰσχίνῃ καὶ Δημοσθένει καὶ αὐτὸ μὲν τὸ ἄλλον ἄλλῳ βασιλεῖ πολιτεύειν, ὡς δ’ ἐμοὶ φαίνεται, τὸ ἐναντίως ἔχειν καὶ τῶν ἠθῶν, ἐξ ἠθῶν γὰρ ἀλλήλοις ἀντιξόων φύεται μῖσος αἰτίαν οὐκ ἔχον. ἀντιξόω δ’ ἤστην καὶ διὰ τάδε• ὁ μὲν Αἰσχίνης φιλοπότης τε ἐδόκει καὶ ἡδὺς καὶ ἀνειμένος καὶ πᾶν τὸ ἐπίχαρι ἐκ Διονύσου ᾑρηκώς, καὶ γὰρ δὴ καὶ τοῖς βαρυστόνοις ὑποκριταῖς τὸν ἐν μειρακίῳ χρόνον ὑπετραγῴδησεν, ὁ δ’ αὖ συννενοφώς τε ἐφαίνετο καὶ βαρὺς τὴν ὀφρὺν καὶ ὕδωρ πίνων, ὅθεν [ἐν] δυσκόλοις τε καὶ δυστρόποις ἐνεγράφετο…

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 1.284-285: Epicurus’ Claim that “Death is Nothing…”

“’ Death is nothing to us’ was likely said by Sophron, but Epicurus proved it; and it is not the claiming of a thing but the proving that is a wonder. And, for that matter, Epicurus did not say that ‘death is nothing to us’ because there is no difference in living or not living—-life is preferable by far because what is good belongs to the world of perception. But where there is no perception, there is neither good nor evil. The fact that corpses do not feel is something the poet knows along with the rest of creation.”

τό τε τὸν θάνατον [μὲν] μηδὲν εἶναι πρὸς ἡμᾶς εἴρηται μὲν ἴσως τῷ Σώφρονι, ἀποδέδεικται δὲ ᾿Επικούρῳ, καὶ ἔστιν οὐ τὸ εἰπεῖν ἀλλὰ τὸ ἀποδεῖξαι θαυμαστόν. εἶτα οὐδὲ κατὰ τοῦτο ἔφησεν ὁ ᾿Επίκουρος τὸν θάνατον μηδὲν εἶναι πρὸς ἡμᾶς, καθὸ ἀδιάφορόν ἐστιν ἢ ζῆν ἢ μή• πολλῷ γὰρ αἱρετώτερον τὸ ζῆν διὰ τὸ αἰσθανομένων εἶναι τὸ ἀγαθόν• ἀλλ’ ἐν ἀναισθησίᾳ οὔτε κακόν τι εἶναι οὔτε ἀγαθόν. τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἀναισθητεῖν τὰ νεκρὰ τῶν σωμάτων οὐχ ὁ ποιητὴς μόνος οἶδεν ἀλλὰ καὶ ὁ σύμπας βίος.

Sophron? Probably less of a household name than Sextus Empiricus.

The Frugality of Diogenes the Cynic

“Diogenes once saw a child who was drinking out of his own hands. He then threw out the cup which he carried in his sack, saying, ‘A little boy has proven more thrifty than me!'”

Θεασάμενός ποτε παιδίον ταῖς χερσὶ πῖνον ἐξέρριψε τῆς πήρας

τὴν κοτύλην, εἰπών, “παιδίον με νενίκηκεν εὐτελείᾳ.” ἐξέβαλε

(From Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers, 6.37)